The state budget deficit is an opportunity in disguise. The pressure of a multibillion dollar shortfall might enable reforms we wouldn't have the courage for otherwise.
Governor Janet Napolitano, although often cited for her skill in avoiding tax hikes, recently unveiled a couple of particularly bad ideas for revenue enhancement. First, she wants to expand photo radar on state highways to generate $90 million of deficit reduction.
The governor also recommended ratcheting up the marketing of the Arizona lottery to generate additional income. But as Steve Voeller of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club points out, lottery tickets have an embedded 41 percent tax. Worse, the tax is hidden and sharply regressive. There are better options than victimizing the poor.
For starters, we could offer more vouchers to Arizona students to attend the schools of their choice. Proposed voucher amounts are always less, much less, than the amount of per pupil spending in public schools. Education researchers calculated that in a recent year, if five percent of Arizona students had used vouchers of $3,500 for elementary school or $4,500 for high school to transfer to private schools, $32 million would have been saved.
Highway funding is another area where fresh approaches are worth a look. Rather than spend money we don't have or adding to our mountain of debt, we could follow the lead of other states in successfully privatizing road construction.
If you don't like these ideas, there are others. We could fund university students directly rather than institutions. We could eliminate taxpayer-funded lobbyists. We could choose from a long list of options to cut noncritical spending.
Now is not the time for Chicken Littles, upset because their spending binge has been ended, now is the time for leaders to emerge who can bring our state through our fiscal problems in better shape than ever.
Tom Patterson is chairman of the Goldwater Institute, a former state legislator and emergency room physician. A longer version of this article originally appeared in the East Valley Tribune.
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